Dealing with negative patients is never easy. They can monopolize your time, make you angry, and frustrate everyone they come into contact with. What can you do?

According to a number of experts, quite a lot.

“I approach patient interactions using the nursing process of assessment, planning, intervention, and evaluation. These steps are taken with patience and understanding,” says Cynthia Rochon, MBA, BSN, RN, Director of Nursing, Behavioral Health Services, Largo Medical Center. “In order to assist with a problem, you first have to understand the root cause. Never make assumptions because that can lead to more negativity. After gaining a clear understanding of the problem or patient care need, you provide an explanation of how the nurse can assist to remedy the problem or facilitate access to the resource who can provide further assistance. The last step is evaluation—validate that the patient has a clear understanding of how to follow up on directions that have been provided. Patient education is an important component of nursing care. When communicating with empathy, the patient experience will usually change from a negative experience into a positive interaction.”

Oftentimes, patients become negative because they are scared, says Jodi De Luca, a licensed clinical psychologist working in the Emergency Department at Boulder Community Hospital in Colorado. “Firm empathy and compassion are an example of setting structure and limitations. Be kind, respectful, and validate the patient’s feelings, but remain professional and clarify unacceptable behavior and/or unrealistic patient expectations.”

“Although it’s true we deal with these patients in the same manner we would other patients, it does take a lot of listening on our end to determine where the negativity is coming from,” says Debra Moore, RN, Director of Nursing of the BrightStar Care Edmond/Oklahoma City as well as the Midwest Region Nurse of the Year for 2017. “They could feel mad because they’re sick, missing a spouse from a recent death, or they may have just heard some bad news or had a frustrating experience in some other area of their lives. After we determine the cause, we talk with the patients and reassure them that we are going to care for them as much as they will let us. These patients may also need a lot of education on their diagnosis and what we can do to help. While it may take time for them to trust us, they will see that we are there for them and that they still have free rein over their lives. We honor them. It will take them sitting back and observing exactly what great care we can provide them. This will, in turn, help them relax and trust us in the end.”

Kristin Baird, RN, BSN, MHA, president and CEO of the Baird Group, is a consultant who coaches and trains nurses and nurse leaders. She shares two of her training points:

1. Suspend judgement and assume a neutral position.

By doing this, you position yourself for great empathy. Empathy is portrayed more through non-verbal behaviors than verbal, but both matter. When a patient feels you are showing empathy, they will have greater trust.

2. Use empathy statements and body language that will diffuse anger.

Try sitting by the patient, touching his/her arm or hand, and saying something like, “You sound upset.” By validating them with your words and showing compassion with touch, you are demonstrating that you care.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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